Detention center to close

The St. James Juvenile Detention Center is running on empty and preparing to close, but Assumption Parish officials say they can take over and house juvenile offenders from an eight-parish area in a converted adult detention center in Napoleonville.

St. James Parish government officials have said they will close the detention center at the end of June because of new state regulations that will drive up the cost of keeping the facility operational. A commission was formed representing eight parishes that is exploring the possibility of taking over operations at the detention center, which is located on the west bank of the Sunshine Bridge near Donaldsonville.

The commission, which includes representatives from Ascension, Assumption, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist and West Baton Rouge parishes, met on Friday for the first time since September because of quorum issues and discussed ideas for moving forward.

The commission is quickly running out of time, however.

Eric Deroche, St. James Parish’s director of emergency preparedness, said the parish no longer can afford to operate the center and isn’t applying for a license from the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, the new licensing agency for juvenile detention centers, to stay open past June.

“We have a steadfast, hard date,” Deroche told commission members. “On June 30, we shut the doors period.”

Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack has suggested another option, noting plans to open a juvenile detention center in that parish.

Jeff Naquin, a member of the Assumption Parish Police Jury who represents the parish on the juvenile detention center commission, said he is “90 percent sure” the parish will open a juvenile detention center to replace the St. James facility.

Sheriff’s officials are building a new adult detention center in Napoleonville, Naquin said, and the old detention center will become the new juvenile detention center.

Naquin said the new adult jail likely will be open by “mid-May,” which would allow enough time for the juvenile detention center to open before July.

Judge Alvin Turner with the 23rd Judicial District Court, one of two judges on the commission, said he had spoken with Waguespack about the sheriff’s plans to open a new juvenile detention center. Turner said Waguespack told him it wouldn’t be a problem getting the facility licensed, if adjustments need to be made to meet state licensing requirements.

Turner suggested the commission push forward with the Assumption facility as “Plan A,” while also considering its other options. The commission passed a resolution supporting the juvenile detention center in Assumption Parish and also voted to form a subcommittee to meet with DCFS officials to aid the licensing of that facility.

Efforts to reach Waguespack, who is a member of the commission but did not attend Friday’s meeting, were unsuccessful.

Deroche said the St. James facility holds a maximum of 80 juveniles, though only 20 were residing there Friday. The average cost per juvenile is about $230 per day, but he said he expects the costs to rise to $280 per day after June 30. Naquin, meanwhile, said Assumption Parish estimates the cost would be $130 per day.

Naquin said the Assumption facility would be able to house 48 juveniles, but that number could double if two juveniles were assigned to each room.

Phillip Bourgoyne, finance director for West Baton Rouge Parish, stressed the need for the commission to get commitments from each local government agency before proceeding.

Renee Kinler, the commander of juvenile investigations for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said she doesn’t believe the commission has enough time to get financing in place to take over operations of the St. James facility, while 23rd Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Dupaty said he felt the commission was “spinning (its) wheels.”

The St. James Parish government has operated the juvenile detention center with an annual budget of $2.5 million, Deroche said. Getting enough money to fund those yearly expenses as well as the initial startup costs necessary to take over operations from the parish is the commission’s biggest obstacle, said Ridgely Mitchell, assistant director of operations for St. James Parish and chairman of the commission.

“We’re really operating in limbo at this point,” Mitchell said.